Something of a rarity this week in the form of a deceptively boring title: Mrs. Caliban. Written by Rachel Ingalls, the writer first emerged in the early 1970s with two innovative novels called Theft and the Man Who Was Left Behind. Mrs. Caliban followed in 1982. She is quite elusive and obscure, however. Now 77, the American lives in England and her last work was published in 2013, but it’s this novella for which she seems best known.
It’s one unusual work, too. It follows the ordinary suburban life of 20 something Dorothy, who has a rather humdrum existence as the wife of the boring, occasionally abusive, and rather dispassionate Fred. Everything is transformed when a 6ft lizard-like monster called Larry, on the run from a medical institute, wanders into her home and begins a blitzing affair with Dorothy. Well, why not?
Right away you have the Kafkaesque theme on the go – it’s an inexplicable situation which finds the amiable, naive Larry outcast from society in the same manner Gregor Samsa is during the Metamorphosis. The 6ft lizard monster is an amiable sort who has been left psychologically damaged following medical experiments carried out on him, which includes sexual abuse at the hands of deviant scientists.
After he escapes from the medical institute, he finds his way to Dorothy’s house and is stationed there in relative safety. Naive about the way of human life, and following the abuse he’s received, this leads Larry to believe being incredibly forward with his advances is the natural way of things. In remarkably swift time, Dorothy and Larry are going at it like rabbits and have an affair, although she must hide him from her friends, family, and the authorities searching for him.
As the novella advances, however, the reader is left to question quite what is going on with her lizard lover. Does Larry really exist or has Dorothy simply started to lose her mind due to the psychological drain of her failed marriage? Is Larry a figment of her imagination?!
All of this makes for a quirky, well written, and strangely moving story about a failed marriage which has led to an unusual event. There’s something timeless about the story – even though it was published in 1982, it doesn’t seem to really represent any decade in recent history, which makes the tale of Dorothy and Larry rather poignant and enjoyable. Splendid, we say!
A bit about the elusive Rachel Ingalls! She’s an obscure writer who won a few awards in 1970 for her debut novel Theft, but she’s never received widespread attention or success. From the little information we know about her, she apparently lives in London and worked in the theatre, as a librarian, and a critic in film and ballet. We stumbled across a mention of Mrs Caliban a few years ago and finally got around to reading it this month. It doesn’t appear to be in print, so you’ll have to pick it up secondhand if you’re interested.
Mrs/Mz. Ingalls isn’t on Twitter or Facebook and she’s not even on Instagram posting endless selfies! What gives?! She’s an obscure writer, then, but one clearly still writing and for this we give her credit. After Mrs Caliban we’ll chase down her other works and provide the lowdown to our imbecilic readers. You lucky swines.
Addendum: The Shape of Water
As an aside here, the Oscar winning film the Shape of Water bears a striking similarity to Mrs. Caliban. Guillermo del Toro’s film isn’t an adaptation of the novella, but it does share the inter-species relationship theme. So, read the book, watch this film, and revel in the melodrama!